TOKYO -- Honda unveiled a limited batch of its flagship Legend sedan with Level 3 self-driving capabilities, becoming the world's first automaker to sell a vehicle equipped with the technology.
Lease sales of the Level 3 Legend would be limited to 100 cars at a retail price of 11 million yen ($102,000).
Honda is stepping up its game in self-driving technology as global competitors aim for fully autonomous vehicles.
The new automation technology is a big step towards eliminating human error-induced accidents, chief engineer Yoichi Sugimoto told reporters.
There are different levels of automation, from Levels 0 to 5, according to the Society of Automotive Engineers.
Level 3, also known as conditional driving automation, involves automated features which allow drivers to engage in activities behind the wheel, such as watching movies or using smartphones - but under limited conditions - while their car navigates expressway traffic.
Besides Honda, several automakers including Daimler's Mercedes-Benz have said they are ready to deploy Level 3 systems for highway driving. Audi unveiled an A8 sedan with Level 3 technology in 2017 but regulatory hurdles have prevented it from being widely introduced.
Levels 0 to 2 involve driver support features such as automated braking systems and lane departure warnings that need to be supervised by a driver. Liability for vehicle behavior rests with the car owner rather than the manufacturer.
Most global automakers that develop autonomous driving technology such as General Motors, Volvo and Toyota, currently offer vehicles equipped with a Level 2 automation system. This means vehicles can accelerate, brake and steer without driver input, but drivers are required to remain engaged at all times.
A Level 5 vehicle, on the other hand, is fully autonomous and can navigate roads without any human attention in all conditions.
How does Honda's Level 3 tech work?
The Legend's Level 3 Traffic Jam Pilot system can control acceleration, braking and steering under certain conditions.
Once the system is activated, a driver can watch movies or use the navigation on the screen, helping to mitigate fatigue and stress when driving in a traffic jam, Honda said.
Traffic Jam Pilot uses data from 3D high-definition maps and a global navigation satellite system for vehicle control, as well as a dozen of external sensors to detect the car's surroundings.
The system can alert the driver to respond when handing over the control, for example via vibration on the driver's seatbelt.
And if the driver is unresponsive, the system will assist with an emergency stop by decelerating and stopping the vehicle while alerting surrounding cars with hazard lights and the horn.
Honda simulated around 10 million patterns of possible real-world situations, and conducted a massive number of demonstration tests on highways to create safe-driving technology, said Hitoshi Aoki, the Legend's development manager.